Friends Forever

I am well aware that I could not do justice to the subject without offending those “professional friends of the African” who are prepared to maintain their friendship for eternity as a sacred duty, provided only that the African will continue to play the part of an ignorant savage so that they can monopolise the office of interpreting his mind and speaking for him. To such people, an African who writes [or thinks] is encroaching on their preserves. He is a rabbit turned poacher.—Jomo Kenyatta, Facing Mount Kenya (1938)

I want you to understand, sir, I am one of the best friends the Negro has in Lyon—Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (1952)

Africans have many friends.

I am often amazed by how many friends we have. Friends who multiply, especially when they learn about the multiple oppressions we face. Friends who launch campaigns, write letters, donate things we really need, including underwear and textbooks written in the 1940s, because every little bit helps.

Every little bit helps.

Our friends like to smooth our way. Aware that Africans are bashful, they write our documents for us, write and edit our speeches, adopt and present our petitions to those in power, and facilitate all the little transactions we cannot, because we are bashful.

We blush in gratitude.

And because they really care, they are willing to handle all those things we cannot, including financial things. Africans are intuitive and love music and cannot handle math or money. Haven’t you heard about the African farmer who planted coins and waited for a tree to sprout?

Yes, our friends are very helpful. We could not exist without our friends.

Even Fanon says so: “Willy-nilly, the Negro has to wear the livery that the white man has sewed for him” (Black Skin). Because our friends are kind and generous, the livery will be sewn to accommodate all those African extras—the buttocks, the genitals, the breasts, you know. Space enough for the African to breathe.

But then Fanon is not very generous. He does not appreciate the friendliness of those who are friendly: “We shall have no mercy for the former governors, the former missionaries. To us, the man who adores the Negro is as ‘sick’ as the man who abominates him” (Black Skins). I am not as ungenerous as Fanon. I appreciate our friends. We appreciate our friends.

In fact, we appreciate our friends so much that when we hold meetings and forums, we are excited when they monopolize these spaces with their ideas and visions and expertise. And we don’t even mind fetching water when they get thirsty. And we are even more grateful when they bring along their friends who monopolize question time. We are so grateful to learn from them.

What would we do without our friends?

Friends are friends forever!

We are happy that our friends want to save us. We are delighted that they translate our statements so that others can understand them. Regrettably, we have not yet learned to write or speak in ways that make sense to anyone else: our translators are our very best friends. We are very grateful.

And because our friends want only what is best for us, we should have no problems assenting to their plans. After all, they have been doing this for a very long time and we are still underdeveloped. If we want to be like them, we should listen to them, or so they say.

As Fanon says, “The black man wants to be like the white man. For the black man there is only one destiny. And it is white” (Black Skins). Fanon is too harsh, I think. Surely our friends do not think like this. They want us to be developed, like them, not white! Simply free and developed. In fact, one day we will be so developed, our gay people will be free to wear leather chaps bare-assed in the middle of Moi Avenue. On that day, we will know we are truly free.

Until the day we can be as developed and free as our friends, we will never be truly free. Or so our friends keep telling us. Until then, our friends will continue to fight for us, to talk for us, to write for us, to use our stories, to show pictures of our faces, to create scholarships and awards in our names, to create petitions for us, to translate our lives for important people.

Our friends will never abandon us.

We are in this together.

For good.

12 thoughts on “Friends Forever

  1. I’m laughing after reading this. Not because it’s funny, but because in some ways it hits too close to home, especially that Fanon bit about whiteness being the only destiny for the black man.

    This is going to sound stupid, but I’ve wrestled with that a lot lately—the last time being when someone in this ghetto I live in said to me you know you ain’t white through clenched gold teeth. It wasn’t the first time. I can take that from an African American—what with Kenya, where I grew up, having instilled in me more of a socio-economic class worldview than a racial one. Taking it from a fellow Kenyan or African is another matter altogether. I wanted to write about this on BMAG recently, but I lack the skill to make the words come out right without violating the limiting discourse of black self-love/hate. Moving on.

    Now you really got me thinking about my friends. Our friends.

  2. I get the irony, I really do. Not because I’ve been misquoted by the white man when I say my people are hungry, or they are jobless, or our women are being denied their rights………….

    I like when the white man swings by to talk to our leaders, to talk to the people on behalf of their leaders, to listen to our woes and write to their leaders……..

    The white man is my friend.

  3. There’s a forked tongue here–and my mother’s voice in my head. Both warn about the friends Africans claim as friends. I remain interested in complicity, always. I’d like to think more deliberately about what it means for a group vaguely defined as African to cultivate and sustain particular kinds of friendships that are predicated, often, on systemic and ideological inequalities.

    I am as interested in how Africans choose their friends as I am in those who choose to befriend Africans. One must use this vague term “Africans” to communicate what is at stake. Choice is a key term here–I’m not into victim/victimizer binaries.

    Friendship is always a risk: I’m not interested in a kind of utopian ideal of friendship. Instead, I’d want to think a little about the kind of ideological work done by the rubric of friendship–what it allows, what it masks, what it accomplishes, what it hides, what it forbids, and so on.

    My mother’s voice warns me about “bad friends” who lead one astray. These days, I listen more and more this voice–the super-ego, call it. It is wiser than I’ve ever appreciated.

    • Infantilism:

      Keguro, how can you voice such progressive “interests”—most of which I share—and then end somewhere (“bad friends”) with a lot of potential for conservatism?

      I say potential for conservatism simply because like it as I do, I still find it hard to label certain friends as “bad” (even though I full well understand that even our mothers use this word rather loosely). Hard because (and as you yourself point out) these friends are much more complicated than good or bad or victim or victimizer.

      Rage, rage against the dying of this (progressive) light, my brother!

      By the way, here’s how my mother warns against these “bad friends” who lead one astray: “books make better friends than people.”

      What a superego injuction!

  4. “Bad friends” is, partly, tongue-in-cheek. I really wanted to emphasize “choice.” Also, to pressure the term “friend” with all its varied connotations. Kenyatta’s short story, the title I forget but I’ve blogged about it somewhere, takes on this idea of the “friend.” And I think it’s important to complicate the languages we have of oppressor/oppressed, victim/victimizer, and so on by looking at things like friendship and gratitude and even love, and taking them seriously as contested territories.

    My sense is that something like friendship blurs the lines between progressive and conservative, to the extent that different people with different interests use it to mask over or efface politics, with varying degrees of success. It would be possible to examine the so-called politics of friendship, as Kenyatta and Fanon do, but even that feels inadequate to the complex affect-ideological complex of friendship. And here I think the banality of terms like “good” and “bad,” a powerful banality, can be pressed into some kind of service.

    But now you are asking me to theorize friendship and, alas, my brain is nowhere near up to the task.

    • You are right: choice is really where it lies—including, as you say, how and why Africans chose these friends.

      Onward! then. Because my brain is shot.

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